The best books I read in 2018

Fiction: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki and Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Nonfiction: 1491: The Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann, Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb, and Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival by Bernd Heinrich

Poetry: R E D by Chase Berggrun

The tenacity of life

On a trail through an aspen grove, a stranger and I stand shoulder to shoulder.  We are witness to miracle.  We are witness to exquisite mundanity. Hiking separately, we stop together to watch a doe and her fawn lap water from a mossy pool.

I have never had a church. As a child I had the old orchard at High Meadow. I met God there once and never again. God was the wind and the wind was so strong—I got scared. From that point on, I looked in at religious communities from the outside.  I was always outside.

I am from a part of the country where we don’t smile and we don’t say hello. We don’t make eye contact and we don’t strike up conversation—unless we’re on a hiking trail. The trail is the only place I’ve ever known people to come together and genuinely extol the beauty of life. The goodness of humanity overwhelms.

A Jewish mystic once told me we are walking through the consciousness of God.  On the streets of Jerusalem, it was easy to believe. Here too, eyes locked with the curious doe.

A few years ago I was working and living in Rocky Mountain National Park. On a Sunday morning, I made a little pilgrimage to the alpine tundra.  Above treeline, the wind whips relentlessly and wildflowers grow very close to the rocky ground. I noticed a woman on the side of the trail with a hand lens and knelt beside her to ask if I could see what she was looking at.  Dwarf clover and alpine forget-me-nots. “Isn’t it incredible,” she asked me, “the tenacity of life?”

In my memory now she is nameless, faceless, but her words have stuck to me like sap to skin. I think of her when I see bristlecone pines, fireweed, or scar tissue. Millipedes, pale and minuscule, crawling across a cave floor. Pronghorns in the snow. A mother surviving her own grief.  These words echo in every moment of awe.

Lexington Arch


Just inside the boundary of Great Basin National Park is Lexington Arch. Unusual in that it’s made of limestone and not sandstone, it’s possible that the Arch is not an arch at all. There’s speculation about the structure being natural bridge or even the remnants of an ancient cave system. However the Arch was formed, it’s a formidable sight on a stormy day.


Since the 2016 wildfire in Strawberry Creek, plants have been growing back with unbelievable tenacity. Penstemons, globe mallows, and prickly poppies stand in stark contrast among the burnt remains of the Piñon-juniper forest.

Palmer’s penstemon (Penstemon palmeri)

Fremont rock art fading into oblivion

Hundreds of years of exposure to the elements, in addition to decades of cars passing by on the nearby dirt road, have taken their toll on the Fremont rock art in Great Basin National Park. Park archaeologists are working to see if anything can be done to preserve these pictographs before nature fully takes its course.

Faintly visible are the trapezoidal bodies of multiple human figures, which are so indicative of Fremont art, painted in reddish pigment.  The pictographs have lasted at least 700 years, if not longer. One wonders if we are the last generation who will be able to see Fremont art with our own eyes.